Practice teaching and research are central in the university studies of social work. At the University of Helsinki, the development of practice teaching in social work into the Praxis activities began at the beginning of the 2000s. Students who will work as social workers after graduation have the opportunity to systematically learn practical client work skills and competences in genuine client work environments. In the social work units, students are guided by experienced social workers with special expertise in teaching – that is, practice teachers.
The practice teaching includes three courses:
1) Professionality and practice skills –course
The course objective of the study unit Professionality and practice skills at the University of Helsinki is that students get first-hand experience of professional work, the methods of social work and their background theories, and that they are able to act according to the ethical principles of social work. Students adopt a critical, inquiry-based and reflective approach. The course strengthens the development of students’ personal professional identity.
After completing the course, the students will have practised an open and respectful attitude toward cultural and other types of diversity in encounters. They are able to work with clients with different backgrounds based on a dialogical, reciprocal orientation. After completing the course students are able to analyze client´s situations and evaluate appropriate procedures and service processes and apply social work methods. Students become aware of issues related to ethics and the exercise of power, as well as the tensions caused by them in social work.
The course includes a total of 250 hours of study in a separately agreed social work unit. This study is supervised by a social worker who acts as practice teacher. The modes of study include work in small groups, seminars and written assignments based on literature and practice.
2) Multifaceted collaboration in social welfare and health care -course
Study unit Multifaceted collaboration in social welfare and health care at the University of Helsinki is an obligatory part of the master´s degree in social work and an optional course for medical students. The classroom teaching of the study unit is planned together by the representatives of social work and medical teachers from the university as well as the representatives of social work practice from the municipalities and hospital district.
For the classroom teaching a special theme area is chosen; last years that has been child maltreatment. The emphasis is both on the prevention and intervention and the theme is studied in multifaceted ways and by using different teaching methods. There are lectures, practitioners´ presentations on their practices and working methods, statements by experts by experience as well as workshops led by them. Also other kinds of action-based learning methods are used. The idea of the study unit is that multifaceted practices are learned above all by working and discussing together.
3) Practice research I and Practice research II -course
Study units Practice research I and Practice research II form a research process during which social work students put into practice small-scale research projects individually or in small groups in cooperation with work communities. After the study units, a students is able, according to the study guide, to plan, fulfill and report a practice research in cooperation with a work community, discuss the subject area studied, evaluate the development needs and possibilities of professional practices with the help of their research, is prepared to use dialogical working orientation as well as take part in the mutual development of professional practices.
At the beginning of the process, the students get acquainted with the research ideas proposed by work communities and negotiate with them on the research projects. Networking is supported for instance by an event organized for all the parties of the process. The research plan is written in cooperation with the work community as well as with the support of the theoretical teaching and supervision got from the university. After the research plan is accepted and a student has got the research permit from the organization, they collect their research materials, analyze them and report the studies. Also for this the students get support from the work communities and academic supervisors. The research process ends with the seminars in which the students present their studies for other students, representatives of work communities and supervisor and get a possibility to discuss the study results. Some research posters and reports written by the students are published on the internet. The students also discuss their research results for instance in the work communities in which the results can be used in the development of professional practices.
Satka, Mirja; Kääriäinen, Aino & Yliruka, Laura (2016) Teaching Social Work Practice Research to Enhance Research-Minded Expertise. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 36 (1), 84-101.